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This essay will analyse how organisations such as Sunday Assembly can be useful for collectively bringing together individuals in society. Emile Durkheim would refer to a service like this as the ‘social glue’ in society as he states that shared moral beliefs such as Sunday Assembly create a sense of harmony. Durkheim’s concept of anomie will be explained and how within a modern division of labour it can threaten social solidarity and social order.
Firstly, for Durkheim, the achievement of social life among humans and the existence of social order, which he alternatively calls ‘social solidarity’ is apparent through the socialisation of individuals. Sunday Assembly would be an example of social solidarity and how people are coming together and socialising within society. Madeley, explains how at Sunday Assembly she began to feel a sense of community after feeling isolated after her redundancy. Evidently, Sunday Assembly is a source of social connection in a modern society where redundancy is apparent and people use these services as a coping mechanism during a time of hopelessness. With solidarity, Durkheim separates the term into ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’. In the complex society which we are in today, organic solidarity is apparent, there is individuality and specialisation within the division of labour and all aspects of life. This means that everyone has a specialism within their labour which will differ from others, however, everyone will still be dependent on one another, creating this solidarity. Contrastingly, mechanical solidarity is achieved in pre-modern traditional societies, this is through a more simple division of labour where people live similar kinds of lives. There were fewer roles to play and it was much easier for people to collectively see the world in the same way as many carried out the same labour roles. As religion has declined, Sunday Assembly is one of the secular community groups to take its place. It could be said that religion was in with the norms and values of traditional pre-modern societies and through industrialisation, modern organic societies lack religion due to decline. With religion fading away, this could be a contribution to an anomic period within society, thus highlighting the importance of groups such as the Sunday Assembly for bringing back that secular presence.
Alternatively, Durkheim’s concept of anomie is somewhat the opposite of social solidarity, he believes anomie is a social condition where the norms and values disintegrate or disappear in society. For example, if organisations such as Sunday Assembly didn’t exist there would be less opportunity for people to come together and socialise and them norms and values that people share will soon deteriorate. Durkheim believes when a social system is in a state of anomie, common values and common meanings are no longer understood or accepted, and new values and meanings have not developed. Essentially people have become too individualised within their roles that a sense of normlessness has faded and people have stopped following the same norms and values. It could be said that Sunday Assembly would be partially responsible for creating new social norms and values for people to join and pick up on. Crossman, states that when people live during periods of anomie they feel disconnected as they no longer see those norms and values, they lose their sense of identity and feel as though they lack purpose. Madeley demonstrates how she may have felt during a period of anomie when she said she felt isolated because of her redundancy, her focus on her profession may have caused her to block out other aspects of life to the point where she could no longer see those norms and values to follow. This links to her living within an organic society she is too individualistic as well as the rest of society to connect with others due to there being so much differentiation within the division of labour. Sunday Assembly may be seen as a ‘way out’ from this period of anomie as it removes those feelings of exclusion and hopelessness so that individuals can create new norms and values as a collective group harmoniously. This provides individuals with the opportunity to regain their identity and feel their worth within society.
Furthermore, in higher societies during a sudden crisis, individuals become habituated through common sentiments and beliefs, anomie begins to show and suicide rates increase. A partial solution to stop these rates of suicide is through reintegrating the individual into group life, providing strong allegiances through a strengthened collective conscience says Durkheim et al. Sunday Assembly replenishes this collective conscience, it reintegrates individuals back into society together through singing and taking part in charitable ventures. Madeley explains that Sunday Assembly has flourished becoming the world’s fastest-growing secular community, the increase in membership should result in lower suicide rates if people pull themselves out of that period of anomie and socially connect again.
Conclusively, Durkheim would claim that the division of labour within society is crucial for an interdependent organic society. But when the members of society become too individualistic, anomie is likely and we need organisations such as Sunday Assembly to prevent such a period of despair. The division of labour and the existence of shared norms and values, in other words, solidarity, needs to be balanced out so that both can exist simultaneously. Secular organisations such as Sunday Assembly exist to meet in the middle of the two in order to maintain them both, and ultimately to prevent the worst-case scenario of suicide.
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